Fragments of empire: Effects of Japanese imperialism in Korea, China, Japan, and Vietnam

Plan Author

  • John Dunham, 2005

Fields of Concentration

Sample Courses

  • Course: Principles of Budo
  • Course: Vietnam: Revolution and Restoration
  • Tutorial: Asian Liberators, Asian Masters: Japan in Vietnam

Project Description

An examination of some effects of Japanese Imperialism, Japanese-Vietnamese relations, and linguistic politics.

Faculty Sponsors

Outside Evaluator

  • John Dower, Ford International Professor of History, MIT


With the benefit of hindsight, it can seem simple to explain the philosophies that drive a nation’s imperialist agenda. When we dig deeper, however, we often find that the driving forces behind colonialism aren’t nearly as well defined as we thought. Nowhere is this clearer than in Japan’s imperial period. This plan examines the historical forces that transformed Japan from an isolated nation to an imperial power in less than a century.

Beginning with the forcible opening of Edo Harbor for trade by the American Navy in 1853, Japan began to modernize rapidly to defend its interests against Western powers. Originally looking to use Korea as a “buffer zone” against potential foreign invaders, Japan eventually took control of many overseas territories. At the height of its power in 1942, the Japanese Empire controlled Korea, Manchuria, and parts of China and Indonesia. After the imperial period’s end at the close of World War II, Japan began a struggle to identify the causes and consequences of its imperial legacy that continues to this day.


“In the early 1900s, Japan had already begun to make a name for itself in Asia by defeating China in the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895. In 1905, Japan also won the Russo-Japanese war, and, by defeating Russia, staked its claim as an equal to the Western powers.”

“While most everyone can agree that Japan was pursuing an imperialist agenda after 1937, marking the beginning of that agenda is considerably more difficult. Does it begin with the creation of Manchukou in 1932? The annexation of Korea in 1910? What about Japan’s victory over Russia in 1905, or the defeat of China and acquisition of Formosa (Taiwan) in 1895?”


“I recall going regularly to Seth’s office to meet, turning over ideas and explaining where and how I was stuck, and having him tell me not to be worried; plan students often are. At which point he would usually haul a book or two off his well-stocked shelves and point me toward some idea that would get me thinking again.”